Church and Ministry in a World at War
The context from Matthew 10:5 to 11:1 is Jesus sending the 12 apostles into the world. Matthew 10:5 says, "These twelve Jesus sent out" and 11:1 says it is "After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples". So, our text is primarily about the ministry, but it is sent to the Church, so it's about Church and ministry in a world rife with spiritual war. The craziness of this situation can be illustrated by figures from a time when the world was at war, and because they are taken from the fallen world, they are illustrations in a backhanded sort of way.
Take Neville Chamberlain. He was prime minster of Great Britain at the outbreak of World War II. He came back from his final meeting with the warmongering Hitler proclaiming peace in our time. Nazi Germany proceeded to take without a shot Austria and Czechoslovakia and then without a shot back from Great Britain they took Poland. All this after Chamberlain came back from Germany declaring peace. Just 20 years after the horrors of World War I everyone except for Hitler and the Nazis wanted peace. So, that was what Hitler pretended to give at the expense of Austria and Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain was willing to pay it.
Jesus is blunt. He doesn't declare peace but the sword. Unlike Islam which claims to be a religion of peace, Jesus says His ministry brings the sword, but while Islam claims to be a religion of peace and brings war to nations, Jesus' bringing of the sword doesn't bring war to nation' but separation among families.
The real peace Jesus gives His ministry to proclaim unlike Chamberlain's is at His own expense. For fallen mankind to have peace with God, Jesus had to satisfy God's anger at the world that broke every one of His laws. Jesus born of a woman, was born under the Law so that by keeping it He might redeem us who brake it. But there was still hell to pay; there was still God's wrath to satisfy for all the ways we had disobeyed Him, insulted Him, ignored Him. Jesus paid the hell, satisfied the wrath drop by bloody drop, painful sigh by painful sigh, tear by salty tear.
Here's where Chamberlain and Christ come together. Chamberlain's false message of peace led to world conflict. Christ's true message of peace with God for His sake leads to conflict in households. The message that there is free forgiveness of all sins in Jesus' name that comforts the Christian enrages the devil, the world, and our own flesh. The name of Jesus that is sweet in the believer's ear is a shrill whistle, a disgusting sound, nails on a chalkboard to unbelief.
Michael Chang won the 1989 French Open. Rather than doing the standard thanking of a generic God, he thanked his Lord Jesus Christ. The French crowd hissed. In 1990 at a 3rd Army chaplains' conference I was told that if I did the invocation, I could mention God or the Father but I couldn't mention Jesus. I didn't do the invocation. Though Acts 4:12 tells you there is salvation in no other Name than Jesus, the Apostles are commanded in 4:18 not to teach or even speak in Jesus' name.
If Neville Chamberlain is the dupe of a world at war, Stalin was one of the beasts. Though he had the blood of tens of millions on his hands from his purges, out of necessity he was our ally against Germany. In 1942 when it looked as if Germany would sweep over Russia, Stalin ordered his army and nation: "Not one Step Back" (Stalin's Daughter, 126).
After telling His ministers the result of their ministry will not be roses but thorns, the sword not peace, the division of closed Communion not the false peace of open Communion that agrees to disagree, Jesus doesn't take one step back. Though the world will reject this message; though families will be divided by the Gospel of peace; though their own flesh will yearn to preach "Peace, Peace" even when there is no peace, Jesus says, "Not one step back."
He tells the ministry: "Anyone who loves family more than Me is not worthy of Me." No wonder He wouldn't let that one would-be pastor return to say goodbye to his family. No wonder He said to another who wanted to leave to go bury his father before following: "Let the dead bury their own dead." Not one step back: Anyone who doesn't take up the cross that kills his will, his opinions, his ideas is not worthy of Me. Not one step back. You want your life back? You want to be free of your cross and at peace with the world? There is such a life as that; take it, but know that in having yours you lose Mine. Not one step back.
Based on Jesus' words who is worthy? Only the person who never takes a step back. Find me a prophet, apostle, or person in the Bible who didn't take a step back? I find Noah stepping off into drunkenness; I find Abraham stepping away from his wife to save his own skin; I find David stepping off into adultery; Elijah stepping off into fear; Jeremiah stepping off into tears; James and John stepping off into revenge; Peter stepping off into denial; and Paul longing to step away from the ministry to be with Christ.
There's only one Man ever who never took a step back. When His mother and father implied He had overstepped their authority, Jesus didn't take a step back from His Father's business. When His family came to rescue Him because they thought He was beside Himself. He told them to step back. When Peter told Jesus that losing His life was not part of God's plan, Jesus told him to step-off; that's Satan talking.
Even though He begged with tears and strong crying in Gethsemane to step back from the Cup of Judgment against our sins, when His Father didn't will that, Jesus didn't do it. On the cross, His cross, of which ours is only a dim model, God stepped back from Him. He abandoned Him, His only beloved Son, into the hands of sinners, devils, hell itself to do to Him whatever they pleased. Even then Jesus didn't take one step back from God. He just asked the question that only He ever has the right to: Why did you forsake Me?
The Judds weren't wrong in 1986 when they sang "Sometimes it feels like this world's gone crazy." It has, and Ministry and Church exist in it, but there is one Person who has remained sane through it all. He is the Minster of the Church and He is the Body of the Church. Jesus, God the Son, and God the Father says what Stalin did: "All of them are my sons."
Stalin's firstborn son was captured by the Germans. Stalin was given the chance to exchange him for German prisoners. His son would certainly be executed if he didn't make the exchange. He didn't and his son was. When asked why didn't he ransom his son, he replied "All of them are my sons" (Ibid. 125).
God the Father could have ransomed His only beloved Son from Sin, Death, and Devil by giving up a world of sinners, by giving up you. Instead He sacrificed His only beloved Son, the only perfect Child He had, for a world of disobedient, hateful, disgusting sinners such as I. When He looked at the world of sinners, and be clear only God could actually do this. When the all-knowing, all-present God looked and saw each individual that ever lived, does live, or will live. He saw each of our individual faces, and you know what He saw? Not us but Jesus. "All of them are My sons" and unlike Stalin when God gave His One Son over to certain death that redeemed all the rest.
Now to get them back from their imprisonment in Nazi Germany where they are suffering under the boot of Sin, Death, and Devil, the Son sends His ministers. The Church that receives them receives Jesus. You know Jesus isn't making a distinction between Him, a prophet, and righteous man. No, Jesus is the Prophet Moses told the Old Testament Church to expect and to listen to. Jesus is the Righteous Man that his brother James speaks of as having been put to death and not resisting. All the prophesies of God are found in Jesus, that's why Paul can say, "All the promises of God are yes' in Christ." All the righteousness of God is found in Him too. That's why Paul can say, "God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in we might have God's righteousness in Him."
Jesus sends His ministry into the world with all His prophesy and righteousness. You want to know what's going to happen tomorrow? I can tell you. You're going to sin, fail, and be discouraged, but your Baptism will forgive your sins, set you on your feet again, and encourage you by freeing you from a guilty conscience. Want to know how your life is going to end? I can tell you. Jesus will send His angels for your soul and they will carry it to heaven. And Heaven's gates of righteousness will swing open wide because they won't see you but Jesus. "All of you are My sons," says God the Father in Jesus' name.
Remember when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus before His crucifixion, and the disciples get all over her for wasting money? Remember how Jesus rebukes them saying, "I tell you what she has done will not be forgotten but told in memory of her"? True Ministers of the Gospels are all sons of the Father, and the smallest kindness to them is not forgotten but rewarded.
Jesus really mixes His pictures here. He tells the Ministry He is sending out into the world at war, you had better be prepared for battle. He tells the Church He is sending them to, "You receive them and you receive nothing less than Me, My promises, and My righteousness, and then He styles His ministers as "little ones." Yup, that's what they are in this fallen world. Not the big ones. Not the ones the world takes after but the little ones easily overlooked. Little ones to whom even a cup of cold water is something.
Combat veterans speak of how thirsty they got in the heat of battle. You've probably experienced that in a tense, stressful confrontation. In a world at war the Ministry that has the Water of Life which is an everlasting fountain, still gets thirsty, and the Church drinking from that Water of life gives him the water of this life, and even so little as one cupful is not forgotten by God Almighty. O maybe by that sinful pastor it is, but not by the Lord who sent Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20170716); Matthew 10: 34-42